A road trip to Arizona cannot be complete without a visit to the two famous Arizona attractions: Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Continuing on with my American Southwest series, I’m sharing with y’all the mistakes we made and the steps you can take to avoid doing the same.
If you’ve heard about locals in Phoenix baking cookies in their cars, you’ll know that Arizona is HOT during the summer months.
As someone originally from Taiwan, I’m pretty confident in being able to survive in the heat. I’m also the kind of person who hates inconveniences. My camera is heavy enough already and the less I need to carry, the better. That said, I decided to ditch my 2L water bottle in the car. WORST DECISION EVERRRRR!!!!!!!!!!
When arriving by car, you need to first park in the lot then hike 3/4 of a mile to the actual rim. I figured it wasn’t too far and the way there wasn’t bad at all despite the sand. After standing out in the sun for photos however, my body just wasn’t having it. I felt light-headed, my vision started to blur, and each and every limb felt heavy as if gravity was pulling me to the ground. The trek back to the car honestly felt like the longest 15 minutes of my life.
Since I was dying (literally) in the heat, we bounced early. And what a shame because this was at the top of my “things to do in Arizona” list. We didn’t even see all the different angles of the rim and what else Glen Canyon had to offer whatsoever. Major regret that I didn’t get to explore more of it.
Lesson of the day? BRING WATER!
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon that consists of two sections: Upper and Lower. Upper Antelope is a much easier hike (walk) whereas Lower involves a lot more climbing and squeezing in between tight slots. Regardless of which you choose to see, visits are only permitted with native Navajo tour guides.
Our trip was a super last-minute one. We didn’t exactly start planning until say a week or two before. That said, most of the tours were sold out already. (Note that our visit was during the beginning of September.) We basically had to go with our last and only option which was the 5:00PM Upper Antelope Scenic Tour with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours by Chief Tsosie.
The tours are an hour and a half and $96 USD for two. We were to check-in at the tour office 30 minutes in advance and the embarrassing thing happened.
After our visit to Horseshoe Bend, we stopped for some food. We had over an hour to kill so we took our time and slowly made our way to the tour office. En route there, we passed by the Navajo Generating Station power plant. As soon as we did, the clocks on our iPhones magically fast forwarded an hour. We were basically panicking and thought we missed our tour. So here we were hustling our asses there and when we finally arrived, the guy at the office told us that we’d missed it… Except he was kidding and explained that the power plant messes with the phones sometimes. Regardless, we were all good, still early.
If you’re planning to visit, just be aware of the time zone differences. (Navajo lands operate on a different time zone than local Arizona time.) Don’t panic though if you pass by the power plant and your clock turns an hour faster 😉
To reach the actual canyon, we had to take their special trucks. Now I forgot to time the ride, but I’d say it felt like a good 20-minute ride at least (one-way). I.e. the tour itself was only around 30-45 minutes.
Entrance to the canyon.
Do you see the heart?
They call this the “dragon eye”.
Other Things to Note
Before you make a comment about how blurry my shots are, I must say that of all the pictures I’d seen online, nobody seemed to mention the fact that it gets dark AF in the canyons. Maybe our timing was off but it was just so sooooo extremely difficult to capture a good photo down here. You might say oh but your photos aren’t that bad. Well there’s something called editing and boy did I crank up that exposure.
Aside from having difficulties shooting in extreme low light, we also had a rough time getting pictures with absolutely no one in the background. Because Upper Antelope is wider and easier to navigate through, it’s the more popular one of the two. Don’t expect that you’ll be the only tour group around.
Photoshopped with no passersby.
Quick shot that we sneaked in with the rare occurrence of no one else round.
If you’re not much of a Photoshop guru and wish to avoid the crowds, definitely book the earliest tour at 6:30AM if you can.
Verdict of the Tour
Overall I found the tour to be very rushed. When checking in, we were assigned a number. It specified which truck we’d go on and each truck fit 12 passengers. For the 5PM tour, there were at least 4-5 trucks in total. And that was just our tour company alone! Even though the truck we’d gone on was our tour “group” for the day, 12 was still quite a large number.
I say that because the tour guide would show us a spot that was optimal for photos, but we would each only maybe get 3 seconds for a shot. Then we had to move out of the way for the rest of the other 11 folks.
Note that there are special photo tours available as well but they are more expensive and you need a camera + a tripod. My friend isn’t big on photography so we opted for the cheaper scenic tour. If you are an avid landscape photographer, however, definitely consider the photography tours.
What I Would’ve Done Differently:
- Book a tour ASAP. We couldn’t help booking last-minute but as soon as you finalize your travel dates, book that tour!
- Pick the earliest tour possible to avoid crowds.
- OR plan your visit between 10AM – 12PM. Another reason why most people choose to visit Upper Antelope is for the mesmerizing light beams that shine down from above and these can only be spotted in the morning to noon period.
- If you own a DSLR, practice taking photos in low light and get to know your camera if you haven’t already. There will be very little time for you to play around with your settings during the tour so make sure you do some homework first on how to best photograph the Antelope Canyon.
- Consider doing a photography tour.
- Consider doing the Lower Antelope tour. It’s not as crowded and from the photos I’ve seen on the Internet, I actually much prefer the Lower one tbh. Check out Travel Pockets’ Lower tour experience – “Exploring Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona“.
There you have it, mistakes we made and what you can do to ensure a much more enjoyable visit to two of the most popular Arizona attractions. For more on my American Southwest adventures, be sure to check out my Bryce Canyon post.
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